June 21, 2023

Tales of the Quest (excerpt)

How Questing Started

from The Definitive History of Questing by His Royal Highness, Co-Sovereign Prince Gregory of Hanswe

Sir Juniper Casings’ magnum opus, The History of the Confederation of Questing Kingdoms, states that the questing system preceded the treaties binding our twelve kingdoms together—that quests, not diplomacy, smoothed the way for the peaceful resolution of conflicts and enhancement of trade.

Learnedly speaking, The History is without parallel—until Prince Reboky of Greloc completes his life’s work, The Kingdoms From Past to Present (currently nearing eight volumes). Despite living in the early part of this century, Sir Casings traveled extensively, visiting the palaces and castles of the several Kingdoms, where he bargained his way into their archives (with likely less gentlemanliness than his prose indicates). His timeline of Farne’s border wars with Suvaginney is meticulously detailed. His family tree for each kingdom’s royal line is dependably documented. And although the history of his own country, Lucorey, is tinged with adulation, it is the only complete history of Lucorey on record.

And yet, despite my admiration for Casings’ intellect and dedication, I dispute his view of quests. Far be it from me, a retired quester with historical leanings, to contest a man of such academic acclaim—but he is wrong. Quests certainly preceded the Confederation; they have occurred in every kingdom throughout time. Nevertheless, quests in their current guise are a recent invention, brought about by decades of trial and error. The first quests were disorganized affairs concocted from arbitrary suggestions and unreasonable stipulations issued by haughty kings and thoughtless princesses.

Now we have a fractious and meddlesome Questing Board to pacify. In the past, the only body that could enforce fairness was the Council of Ambassadors. It was their work, not the quests themselves, that led to more oversight and standardization. It is easy to complain about Questing Board rules, yet the story of Prince Alfred and Princess Melinda reminds us how unsporting an unregulated quest can be.

The Impossible Task

A Tale of Questing in Its Infancy

Alfred was an impossibly arrogant prince, so Princess Melinda of Latavania set him an impossible task: “Find me the emerald of Terano.”

And so the arrogant prince, Alfred of Belget, went away, swearing to do the impossible. He would show her; he would have her.

He never returned. Sulking in his castle, most likely. Ah, well, pride proceedeth the fall.

Prince Phillip of Gailland, Melinda’s next suitor arrived. He was handsome and nice. Terribly nice. Melinda gave him a much easier task than Alfred’s. Phillip returned within a month. He presented his prize, a flower from the Forest of Malino in Tajart. Latavania’s prime minister declared it authentic. Wonderful. Melinda’s insides wrapped themselves around her heart in ecstasy.

Phillip proposed a visit.

“I would love to see your country,” Melinda said, feeling some gushing was appropriate.

“I would love for you to see it,” said Phillip, and the semi-official visit was settled.

Phillip’s councilors greeted Melinda effusively. Such a pleasant young woman, they said. Such a splendid couple you and Phillip will make, they said. Such a profitable match, they did not say, but Melinda agreed. The prime minister was pleased.

Melinda and Phillip drove through the countryside and boated on the lake. They waded at the beach and strolled in the evening down half-hidden walks.

O wondrous days. O fabulous hours.

Calamity arrived in the guise of a shadowy man named Whit. He trudged into the great hall where Melinda and Phillip sat tête-à-tête near the great hearth in the main hall.

Whit was Prince Alfred’s yeoman. He wanted news. Did they know where Alfred was? Had they seen him since he left for Suvaginney, the rumored hiding place of the Terano emerald?

“He came through Gailland during his search,” Phillip said. “I haven’t seen him since.”

Melinda, at once numb and agonized by this unforeseen outcome to Prince Alfred’s quest—the quest she had sent him on—shook her head.

“We are looking,” Whit said. “And we will continue searching.”

He departed, as endurable and ineffable as he had come.

Melinda said, “I should never have given Alfred such a difficult task. What if he died in the east?”

“He knew the risks,” Phillip said.

“I should have given him an easier task.”

“He would have been offended. Remember, I met him, Princess.” Phillip smiled. “Most impulsive.”

“I feel guilty.”

“You must allow for his choices.”

He diverted her gently with talk. He spoke intelligently about art, literature, and his family. He had an aunt who never left her house because she feared her beauty would overwhelm the populace. He had a cousin who trained bees. Melinda laughed and forgot Alfred. She and Phillip chose a wedding day.

Whit again marred Melinda’s serenity. He approached her on the path along the river when she was alone.

He said softly, “Please, Princess, for Alfred’s sake, visit the last cottage behind the shops.”

Guilt thus reawakened within her, she slipped out the next day. Phillip was meeting with the council of ambassadors to discuss the merging of his and Melinda’s countries. They would spend hours discussing trade agreements, foreign policy, and what-not.

Melinda wore a cap, coat, and britches. She tiptoed down the back stairs through the empty kitchen and across the cobbled yard. A stable hand said, “Hey, young man, where are you going?” but Melinda didn’t stop. She sprinted out the stable gate and down the street to the village.

How lovely not to see it from the carriage. Women bustled in and out of shops, swinging their baskets and laughing big belly laughs. “Hello, Sarah. How’s that good-for-nothing husband of yours?” Little boys, their hands outstretched, begged, “Please, sir. Ah, please sir, a farthing.” Traders from countries as far away as Svetland haggled with shopkeepers over arrays of goods.

Everyone was talking about Melinda and Phillip. “That young princess, now, she seems pleasant. Good enough for our kingdom. A nice girl. The prince sure does love her.”

“Not too pretty, but I never did trust good looks,” said the grocer’s wife. The drunks coming out of the tavern, knew better and sang quavering songs about Melinda’s beauty. She fled, ears burning.

She found the cottages through an alley. They overlooked a narrow footpath behind the shops. They were older timbered houses with shuttered windows and cluttered yards. A few children clung to the gates to watch Melinda pass.

The last cottage appeared untenanted. It was such a sad house with drooping gray colors and straggly thatch, but, “Pardon,” said a voice behind her, and a man limped around Melinda and opened the gate. He carried a small package of sausages. He set it down to relatch the gate, and she saw that his right hand was crippled, all the fingers frozen in a fist. Such a sad, little house and a sad, old man.

He looked at her across the gate. She saw that he was not old. His face was ragged with scars yet rather grand for all that. Alfred was still so very arrogant.

“Good-day,” Alfred said, not meeting her eyes, but Melinda said his name.

He quivered into immobility, gripping his groceries. Melinda opened the gate and took his arm. He averted his face.

She led him inside and made him tea.

“Was the task so dangerous?” she said. “I did not know. I did not mean to bring you harm, Alfred.”

He rested the teacup on his knee, said to the carpet, “I found the emerald, Melinda. I told you I would,” and he smiled.

“What happened?”

“You are going to marry Prince Phillip?”


“Go back to the castle. Tell Phillip you had a good time seeing his village. Go.”

“Tell me.” She stood before his chair and lifted his face to her. He winced. “Tell me.”

“Phillip stole the emerald.”

“I don’t believe you.”

He shrugged. “Good. Don’t. Leave me be.”

“I can’t believe you would let him.”

His mouth curled grimly. “I hired a boat and crew in Gailland; I returned here after I found the emerald. Phillip learned what I’d accomplished. He set his henchmen on me, locked me in a dungeon. He did this to me.”

Alfred held up the broken, gnarled hand, and Melinda put her hand to her mouth.

“He said I didn’t deserve you. Said I wouldn’t know how to care for you. Said he was rescuing you from a terrible fate. Once he had what he wanted, he let me go.”

“Why do you remain here?”

“I couldn’t go home, not like this, not broken.”

Because he could not bear humiliation, had never endured it well.

“Or to me,” she said.

“Especially not to you. It was not just your land I wanted, Melinda.”

“Come with me to the castle.”


“I said I would marry you if you found the emerald. I promised you first. I must ask Phillip if he took it.”

Alfred shook his head.

“I’ll drag the council of ambassadors to your doorstep,” Melinda said, furious with his pride and her thoughtlessness.

I never looked for him. I never wondered.

So she brought Alfred with her into the great hall where Phillip sat with the ambassadors, who rose in astonishment at Alfred’s appearance. She told Alfred’s story.

“Of course I never wounded him,” Phillip said. “Princess, you know what he is like.”

“Never a liar,” she said. “I never heard him called a liar.”

“Over so great a prize,” Phillip said to the ambassadors, “what man would not falter and fall,” condemning himself as well as Alfred. He added quickly, “Alfred’s temper—his refusal to accept defeat—is well-known.”

“Perhaps, Prince Phillip,” said an ambassador, “you would allow a search of your possessions?”

For the first time Phillip’s confidence wavered while Melinda thought, I never saw: Phillip’s cupidity, as overweening as Alfred’s pride, that must obtain what it wants, not with feats or declarations but with honeyed words and sweet messages.

“Melinda,” Phillip said. “Melinda, I love you,” while Alfred stood cold and aloof at her side.

She touched him lightly. He responded: a quiver of warmth, an unclenching of muscles.

“Melinda,” Phillip said, “I did it for you. I took the emerald for your sake.” He addressed the ambassadors: “I think you all agree that I won it.”

“Surely,” said an ambassador, “it matters how you won it,” and the ambassador from Latavania said, “The princess asked that it be brought to her. Neither prince has completed the quest.”

All turned as shouts rose outside the great hall. Whit rushed through the doors followed by six guards. He carried an object wrapped in cloth. Green glinted amongst the folds.

He called to Alfred, “I found it in Prince Phillip’s room.”

“No,” Prince Phillip cried, rushing forward.

“Give it to me,” Melinda shouted, and Phillip dropped back.

Whit looked at Alfred. Melinda looked at Alfred. He stared across the room at the wrapped emerald; he stared at Melinda, the greatest prize he could ever have won.

He said, “Give it to her, Whit.”

So Whit gave it to her, and she held her choice in her hand.

“Which prince do you choose?” said the ambassador from Alfred’s country. He was forthrightly curious, not at all reproachful.

She considered, and she felt, of a sudden, that the emerald was only the brief, illusionary image of choice, that she had never been bound by her tasks any more than Phillip and Alfred had been bound to achieve them, that yes and no lay at her disposal, of a surety.

Which will you choose?

And she weighed the question in her mind as night closed in on the great hall and servants came in to light the lamps.

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